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Ndigbo: Time to look beyond Hope Uzodimma and see the danger ahead

By Sunny Igboanugo on 29/05/2021

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"Don't mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violation, the report will come to my table, and you know what I will do.

“So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don't wait for an order. Don’t sit and wait for them to come; take the attack to them and don't lose your arms to criminals."

This was a statement attributed to a police officer – not a low-level officer or even a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), in one nondescript station in a remote village. This was said to be from Alkali Baba, the Acting Inspector General of Police (IG), Nigeria’s number one policeman. 

Perhaps, he was reading the riot act to his officers and men as they readied to storm a hideout somewhere in Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram terrorists, have camped for the better part of their decade-old bloody campaign against Nigerians or other parts of North East communities, that have turned into human abattoirs with the daily gory tales of mass butchering of people. No!

Okay! The police boss, must have been speaking to his personnel to launch a merciless attack on the bandits running riot in the North West of Kaduna, Zamfara or Katsina, home of President Muhammadu Buhari. No! What about those slaughtering Nigerians in Benue and Jos? No still!

The eerie charge, was to operatives in Igboland, hitherto, acknowledged as the safest part of Nigeria, with Anambra State, mounting it on a standard and celebrating it – safety in the land – as one of its major achievement in the last eight years now.

Of course, the implication of this order would not sink in to those insulated from the trend of events in Nigeria in recent years, especially in the past six years, where the country has sunk deeper into the seeminly irredeemable morass of terrorism and banditry activities. 

But why choose the South East for such outrightly outlandish command and what is the implication in the context of the relationship between the area and the central government of Nigeria in the Buhari years? Since the break of 2021, South East has not known peace. The setting had been laid earlier with strange gunmen attacking security personnel and formations in various communities, first, in Anambra State, including the state capital, Awka.

As the people wondered at this strange activities of the gunmen who seemed to have singled out men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), the attacks gradually seeped into other states within the zone, with more attacks in Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Abia almost with the same pattern. As the apprehension grew more and more, given the suddenness, the precision and successes of the operations, which seemed to take place without any counter from the security operatives, the public became more confused and troubled.

The din on the commotion however become quite deafening when the most ambitious strike came, with the invasion and burning of the headquarters of the Imo State Police Command and Owerri Correctional Services, which was broken into and the inmates released, That not only enlarged the frontiers of the problem, but set off different permutations began and finger-pointing by different actors. 

This singular incident, which took place on April 5, 2021, practically raised the danger bar from amber to red-colour. It also introduced the hydra-headed dimensions the situation has now assumed. 

Before this period, Hope Uzodimma, Governor of Imo State had been embroiled in a running battle with the Indigenous People of Biafra over the activities of Eastern Security Network (ESN), around Orlu and Orsu local governments of the state. The governor’s invitation of the Nigerian Army personnel to flush out the ESN operatives, who had overwhelmed the police, had sparked off intense debate over the propriety of the action.

At first, many people had wondered whether the strange phenomenon was a continuation of the battle, while others debunked it with the argument that it did not fit into the modus operandi of IPOB or ESN.

Could it be the handiwork of political actors in the state then? Before now, there had been no love lost between Uzodimma and his last but one predecessor, Rochas Okoroch, same as Emeka Ihedioha, whom he displaced from office in controversial circumstances. Are they responsible. Both promptly denied involvement. In fact, Uche Onyeagocha, the Secretrary to State Government (SSG), in the Ihedioha government, had to particularly appear on Channels Television to exculpate the ex-governor's camp.

Enter the immediate past Inspector General of Police (IG), Muhammed Adamu! In less than 24 hours after the April 5 attack, he identified IPOB as the culprit. This open and shut conclusion, even without any formal investigation, not only raised eyebrows, but set tongues wagging. How did he come to such conclusions so soon after? That gave the impression in certain already suspicious circles of work from an answer.

Unfortunately, the former IG, was sacked minutes after that unholy outing, making it impossible to follow the lead he provided. Regardless, it effectively introduced the Federal Government into the mix. The argument began to firm up that the South East was indeed being primed up for something more sinister than they had received in the past few years.    

Since then, with the consistency of the attacks and the peculiar characteristics of the operations of the ubiquitous unknown gunmen propelling them, not a few Nigerians have begun to look at the matter beyond the Uzodimma-IPOB confrontation.

With IPOB, not known to shy away from its activities, denying involvement, the search for the culprits, have now been extended to many other forces outside the South East. There is the apparent impression that such forces are merely making IPOB the fall-guy.

Incidentally, Uzodimma, early enough seemed to have seen through this gambit, as he, all but, exculpated the pro-Biafran group. For him, it was almost the biblical case of the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob.

Emerging from a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on April 23, Uzodimma, had told State House Correspondents that the attacks were politically-motivated. His contention was that it was targetted at pulling down the government in Imo and that of Buhari.

“From 2015 till today, I thought what the problem would be is people saying that there is no job creation, people are not feeding, salaries are not paid, infrastructures are going down, social interventions are not approved by the government. These things are there, available, a passmark for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Now, people are no longer talking about that, rather what they are doing is to sponsor crisis, to the extent that those funding this banditry are politicians, which I challenge and call on security agencies to make their names available to the press because what they want to do is to distract a government that is focused,” he said. Propped further, he said the names of the sponsors would be made known soon as investigations were being concluded.

A day after the governor’s outing in Abuja, his Omuma, Oru West country home came under attack by the marauders leading to the burning of some cars and other structures in the expansive compound in addition to the killing of two persons within the community.

This thinking was further strengthened when the governor in a statement by his spokesman, Oguwike Nwachukwu revealed that most of the people arrested were outsiders and not Igbo, further alienating the IPOB imprimateur.

The statement, said: “We will crush anybody that attempts to cause mayhem or attack Imo people again. Government cannot surrender to blackmailers, hoodlums and perpetrators of violence, who have sworn to make the state ungovernable.

“Over 400 of those who carried out the threats on the state in the past have been arrested and undergoing trial at the courts. The good thing is that over 70 per cent of them are not Igbo.”

Flowing from this, the abiding questions therefore are who is procuring these people to attack Imo and by extension, the South East and for what motive(s)? Concomitantly, why are the attacks more pronounced at the moment in Imo and Ebonyi, the two All Progressives Congress (APC) states more than other states?

Is it possible that some people are sponsoring the mayhem to blunt the edge of their weapons to fight for space in the party, hitherto dominated by people from other places? Before now, one of the major arguments against the South East not benefitting from the APC central government is that their people are not in the party. Today, with two states being controlled by the party, that argument has fallen flat on its face.

In fact, insiders say that the strident voices of Uzodimma, Umahi and other big wigs have become a strong whip lacerating the conscience of the party about the Igbo question both at the group meetings and individual levels. With the prospect of more governors from the area joining, as is being speculated this situation may further be accentuated.

Indeed, is this part of the 2023 calculations? Since his election as the new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo pan socio-cultural organisation, Nnamdi Obiozo has shown his intention to pursue the project of the next Nigerian President coming from the South East. 

He has used every opportunity to canvass for it, while putting his cerebral and intellectual prowess on ground to deal with some of the negative questions being raised against the project like Ndigbo not speaking with one voice.

Hear him in one of his outings: "The truth of the matter is Ndigbo have a convincing argument to present before the country. And for those who are willing are open-minded, they will understand indeed how compellingly reasonable it is for them to support South East to produce the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria the next time around.

"In fact, when people talk about justice or injustice, it is because it has not affected you and you think it will not come to you. In 2013, I said that the injustice meted to Ndigbo would be going round, I also wrote why Ndigbo are angry. Today, all the youths in Nigeria are angry. They’re angry, because what affected one group like an isolated case, has become like a plague. So what do you do?

"Ndigbo are getting ready and they’re fighting. Like every battle, you need a very few good men to win. It takes a few to achieve victory for many. Speaking with one voice is not political or democratic now! One voice is dictatorial. One voice is unacceptable in a plural society, especially in an irrepressible pluralist society like Nigeria; certainly irrepressible individualists like the Igbo.

"What are Ndigbo bringing. In fact, they’re bringing visible and conspicuous achievements and capacity to turn these national difficulties into dividends for Nigeria, obstacles into opportunities."

With the such quality argument coming from the highly-cerebral and cerebrated diplomat, it all goes to show the preparedness of Ndigbo to meet others at the intellectual level, while the politicians tackle and defend the political front.

So what next? Is it a coincidence that an announcement was recently made about how Ndigbo through IPOB were planning to attack Lagos – a city with the highest concentration of Igbo investments in the world? Is it also a coincidence that an Igbo son was the one who made the announcement in a video that went viral? Who would gain by that obvious attempt to knock the heads of the Yoruba and Igbo together?

However, IPOB, on its own and a sizable segment of Nigerians believe the development is a far more sinister scheme than politics. Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader and his men are making a strong case that it is an extension of the terrorism going on in the northern part of Nigeria that is stealthily being transported down south, with the active connivance of the Federal Government.

Buhari, who has been accused of prosecuting a Fulani agenda, is said to have rekindled the hitherto abandoned project of the north’s quest to dip the Koran in the ocean, an euphemism for taking over the entire, Christian-dominated south and forcefully converting them to the Islamic faith.

A statement from one Osita Nwokosisi, who claimed to be the second in command of the ESN, vehemently denied his group’s involvement in the shooting of policemen, called on Ndigbo to wise up to the plot wipe out Ndigbo.

“In the name of God and whatever you worship I appeal to you to listen to me. ESN is not Unknown gunmen. We have no hands in the shootings of policemen and army officers. We have no hands in the Awkuzu killings. We did not kill anyone in Ozubulu. We cannot point a gun at a fellow Igbo. We cannot slit the the throat of women and children of any ethnic group, no matter the provocation. We are not barbaric animals! Above all, we are not criminals. ESN hereby disassociate ourselves from the carnage in Igbo land. 

“Who are unknown gunmen? The Federal government sponsored the deadly Fulani killers and the Al Shabaab from Mogadishu to cause mayhem in the South East. Their intent is to overrun the Igbo nation. The South East, especially Anambra State has been surrounded by these people. They are the ones doing these shootings. The Governors are aware of this fact but it is too late for them to act now. A horrible genocide, never heard of in history is about to befall Ndigbo. They planted Fulani's at the helm of the security outfits all over the South East with the mandate to fulfil their Jihadist agenda. Please investigate if you doubt,” he added.

He further revealed that the modus operandi were to disarm the Igbo communities, destroy the security networks and instill fear into the people before launching their attack on the now completely vulnerable people, adding that parts of these had already been achieved substantially and the execution was now at the final stage.

Scary? Definitely! But there is no way IPOB and the ESN could wash their hands of the impending doom even if true. Much as they want to blame outsiders, they practically watered the ground for them to carry out the plot. Long ago, well-meaning Igbo people, including Ohanaeze and the governors have been urging them to tone down their dangerous rhetoric.

Kanu, the leader, not only took ownership of some of the atrocities attributed to the group, but was actually overheard giving orders for the armed group to wipe out anybody who stood on their way of ridding the South East of Fulani herdsmen, including police, army and other security operatives.

Attempts by Igbo leaders to mitigate the situation including the creation of Ebubeagu, the South East security network, were seen as acts of sabotage with Kanu and IPOB forbidding its existence, warning of dire consequences for anybody associating with them.

Now that the chicken seems to have returned home to roost, the same Kanu, IPOB and ESN, seem as helpless as the people who have become the victims of the onslaught. Like in the Libyan scenario, where every institution the NATO forces wanted to bomb was labelled, command and control centres, as they laboured to kill Muommar Ghadafi, every youth in the South East now lives in fear of being labelled a member of IPOB or Unknown Gunmen, willy-nilly! The implication of this is at best arrest and torture if not outright death, given the order of the new IG.

Yet, this must not be an excuse to take the eyes off the ball as to the issue at hand particularly the much-advertised raison d’etre attributable to the situation. After all, there is no IPOB or ESN in Kaduna, where thousands have been slaughtered. There is no IPOB in Jos, Taraba or Benue. Even in Zamfara and Katsina, there is neither IPOB nor ESN, even as they continue to boil.

Besides, has anyone forgotten the controversial prediction of Obadiah Mailafia? The former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), appears to be spot-on with his prediction of the sequence of events. Recall he had warned that the streets would become the next theatre of war in that famed 2020 interview, where he fingered the infamous Fulani herdsmen as the culprits.

Remember he also forewarned that the group, he argued was no different from terrorists, working with active cover from the government in power, would leave the bush and enter the towns as their next stage in the bid to take over Nigeria. Remember he warned that the entire rainforest, including the South East, has been surrounded and the actual war would break out in 2022. Doesn’t the present situation look exactly like that eerie scenario he predicted?

In the end, whether it is Uzodimma’s reading of political motives, IPOB’s ISIS bent or Mailafia’s Fulani herdsmen doomsday prediction, the fact remains that the current situation is beyond the ordinary and requires extraordinary measures to counter in order to avoid the monumental catastrophe that is coming.

What to do? There must be a rallying cry. Every hand must be on the deck to save the situation in Imo. South East governors must rally behind their colleague in Imo, forgetting all political inclinations. Igbo leaders home and abroad must oil their contacts, domestic and international to get the world intervene in the situation. IPOB must tone down its rhetoric and refrain from giving impetus to the odious situation. Those in the professions – journalists, lawyers, rights activists and social crusaders, trade unions, traders associations – everybody must pool resources together to save the situation.

Those who still hug the idea of making it an Uzodimma affair with the aim of vanquishing him, either for individualor politicall purposes, may soon discover the hard way that they are treading the wrong road that could only lead to perdition. Whatever dispute exists must give way immediately. The wise counsel of the elders that there must be a concerted effort to save the chicken from the hawk first before retiring to question why it wandered towards the bush.

For the governor, his role is to ensure that he is not complicit in the entire gory scheme. Unlike many others, no Igbo man is unaware of the consequences of blood. Shedding of blood, especially of the innocent is the height of crime any Igbo man would commit. This much was depicted in the fall of Okonkwo, when he slew Ikemefuna in Chinua Achebe’s classic - Things Fall Apart. A lover of whites with the trademark red cap, which signifies purity, the governor ought to be aware of the damage the splash of innocent blood would do to his being as an Igbo, a prominent one for that matter.

Against this backdrop, he must ensure that only the guilty get their fair comeuppance while the innocent are let off the hook. Already, there are stories of indiscriminate arrests of the innocent, apart from the mass killings of youths.

One of them was the trending video of a woman, who claimed that his son was spirited away from her restaurant at Ogbo Oshishi market by some unidentified policemen. There are many more of such. The governor, must try his best within his limited powers even as the Chief Security Officer of the state to personally inquire into these agonising stories. If it takes visiting the suspects and individually interviewing them to ensure that the innocent do not suffer, it would suffice. Nothing should be too much sacrifice to achieve that end.

Unfortunately, he must rely on the same security operatives to get at the root of the matter and carry out these duties in this regard. Any Nigerian with a faint idea of how the system works know that the present situation presents a bazaar opportunity for the police and other security agents, who not only love to vent their frustrations on the vulnerable in the society, but use them as a meal ticket at periods like this. The rest of the story could only be imagined.

Thankfully, the IG’s kill and go order did not go unchallenged as some prominent Ndigbo have taken him on. No less is expected in rallying behind Uzodimma at this time. For as the Igbo say: Ihe ka nte bakwutere nte n’onu (A stronger predator has entered the hole of the cricket). Agwo no n’akirika (the snake has find its way into the dry grass).   





Posted on May, 29 2021

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